Meaty tips from BBQ pitmasters across America

bbq pitmasters

Feasting is our column dedicated to cooking, grilling, eating and discovering what’s on the menu across America and the world.

One of the best parts about living in America is how diverse it is – the people, the landscape and all of the different cultures coming together in this melting pot we call home. Just as the country itself differs in these ways, one of our proudest traditions varies from state to state, city to city and even block to block. No matter where you are in the country, chances are there’s a BBQ joint nearby that you love.

Author Will Budiaman set out across America to discover all the different BBQ styles, and lucky for us, he organized his findings into a book we can’t wait to crack next time we fire up the grill. Be the BBQ Pitmaster is a regional smoker cookbook celebrating America’s best ‘cue. It’s full of insider secrets and 125 recipes from award-winning pitmasters, regional BBQ style overviews and must-have basics to teach you the ropes or help you brush up on your meaty knowledge. To get an insider’s take on the book, we caught up with Will himself to learn about his inspiration and snag a recipe for you to try at home,

BBQ PitmasterWhat first got you into BBQ? Are you from a place where it’s very prominent in the culinary scene?

My first taste of barbecue was during one of the yearly trips my family took during the summer back to their native Indonesia. Babi guling is a traditional Balinese way of cooking a whole pig slowly over a spit; in fact, the word guling refers to the act of rotating the pig. That crisp, crackling skin combined with the succulent meat underneath got me hooked onto barbecue from very early on.

In terms of geography, you couldn’t get much further from the heart of traditional Southern barbecue. In terms of technique, though, if you were to pick someone in North Carolina up out of their backyard and drop them onto that beach halfway around the world, I’d think he or she’d see a pretty familiar sight. And so while there are certain things that define American barbecue as a cuisine, I think it’s important to recognize barbecue as a technique you can find around the world. Anytime you have meat cooking low and slow with smoke, you have barbecue.

From the looks of it, writing this book took you to all types of amazing places across the United States. Can you tell us about one of your favorite experiences while researching?

I will never forget the time I walked into Beef Palace, a butcher shop in Huntington Beach, CA. I was looking for a whole packer brisket to test with, something that can be hard to find at a supermarket. The first thing anyone notices is the décor. I wouldn’t call it retro — more like frozen in time. Memorabilia and lots of cow heads adorn the wood-paneled walls. The second thing you notice is the wraparound display case of meat. They don’t call it Beef Palace for nothing. And most importantly, the staff: big, burly guys all dressed in red who are quick with a smile and happy to help. They know what they’re talking about and will get you exactly what you need. On your way out, they let you take as many spuds as you like on the house. Meat and potatoes, get it?

Related: Here’s everything you need to know about smoking your own meat

BBQ PitmasterNew York City has really come into its own this past decade, drawing BBQ chefs from all over the country to bring their hometown styles and add a little urban flair to the mix. What are some of your favorite spots to grab BBQ in NYC? 

For brisket, Hometown Bar-B-Que; for North Carolina barbecue, Arrogant Swine.

Do you have a favorite recipe from the book? If so, can you share it with our readers?

Sure. Please find attached a recipe for Kentucky Burgoo, inspired by Gus Jaubert. He was one of the great “Burgoo Kings” of the post-Civil War era who made the dish a mainstay of Kentucky barbecue.

Jaubert’s Kentucky Burgoo

Serves 8

Gus Jaubert was the original “Burgoo King,” and the invention of the dish is widely credited to him. He was also a very talented pitmaster. This burgoo recipe is inspired by his version of the dish.


3 bacon slices
2 large yellow or white onions, diced
1⁄2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 (1-pound) bone-in beef shank (chuck is also a great choice)
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, diced
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed and diced
1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels, thawed if frozen
4 quarts water
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper


1. In a large pot, cook the bacon over high heat for 1 1⁄2 to 2 minutes or until crisp on one side. Reduce the heat to medium, turn the bacon and cook the other side for 1 to 2 minutes. Remove the bacon from the pot and set it aside. Do not drain the rendered fat from the pot.

2. Increase the heat to medium-high, add the onions to the pot and sauté them for 6 to 7 minutes, or until slightly softened.

3. Add the butter, beef, chicken, tomatoes, potatoes, corn and water to the pot and bring the liquid to a simmer. Crumble the bacon into the pot.

4. Season the burgoo with the salt and pepper and bring everything to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook the burgoo, stirring more frequently toward the end of the cooking time, for 3 1⁄2 hours, or until the beef separates easily from the bone and is tender. Serve immediately.

Be the BBQ Pitmaster is available at